Meet our graduate researchers - Dr Stephen Muhi
Research title: Novel strategies to diagnose and control emerging infectious diseases.
Started PhD studies in 2021
Tell us about your PhD research
My PhD primarily involves establishing a controlled human infection model (CHIM) for Buruli ulcer. Although this project is ambitious, a successful CHIM will enable us to comprehensively interrogate immunological responses to infection, rapidly test vaccine efficacy and safety, novel diagnostics and therapeutics, and use immunological correlates of protection to inform vaccine research and development. Like many other clinician researchers, my research also pivoted towards COVID-19, with an early focus on novel diagnostic testing, including the first COVID-19 rapid antigen testing (RAT) trial in reported Australia.
What and where did you study/work/undertake placement/training before your PhD?
I completed my undergraduate studies at La Trobe University, where I completed a Bachelor of Medical Science, majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, and Bachelor of Space Science, majoring in physics. I then completed a Bachelor of Medicine / Bachelor of Surgery at Deakin University, completing my clinical training at Ballarat Clinical School. I completed my medical internship and basic physician training at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, during which time I completed a Masters of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at James Cook University. I undertook my advanced training in Infectious Diseases at The Royal Melbourne Hospital (2017 and 2019) and spent 12 months training at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, which included 6 months as a Medical Microbiology Registrar. During this time, I also completed a Masters of Clinical Education at the University of Melbourne.
What made you decide to first undertake a PhD and choose the Doherty Institute?
I was eager to study at the Doherty Institute to establish and build on my existing research/clinical/academic networks. Due to my interest in tropical medicine, I actively sought out research opportunities to study Buruli ulcer, which I had seen many times in the clinic and recognised as a re-emerging threat to public health. Thanks to the support of my clinician colleagues, I have been given the opportunity to continue practicing medicine while doing my PhD studies part time, which really motivates my research. Importantly, my research benefits from the wealth of expertise at the Doherty Institute and the surrounding biomedical precinct.
How do you combine your PhD research with your role as an infectious diseases physician?
I work part time at The Royal Melbourne Hospital as an infectious diseases physician and I'm now enrolled part time in my PhD, which allows greater flexibility. My PhD research has peaks and troughs, so there are times when I am stretched, but other times when I can catch up on other commitments. Generally speaking, juggling research and clinical medicine can be challenging, but extremely rewarding. I also work part time as a medical educator at the University of Melbourne, which rewards my passion for teaching the next generation of compassionate and holistic doctors.
When do you hope to complete and what are your plans post-PhD?
I plan to complete the PhD as soon as possible! Realistically, this may not be until 2025 (due to the part time study load), but working on a ‘wet lab’ project with a slow, fastidious, technically challenging bacteria like M. ulcerans has really taught me the skill of patience!
What advice do you have for an infectious diseases physician who is considering a PhD?
It’s an excellent experience if you’re looking to challenge yourself. Particularly if your project involves ‘wet lab’ research, it can be a steep learning curve… but there’s an especially rewarding feeling when you successfully extract DNA for the first time, or when your PCR finally works, or when that gel confirms what you’ve been looking for. More importantly, we know that each one of these technical steps will contribute to the body of science that will one day make our patients’ lives better.